Powered by women

15 min read
13 Jan 2017
15 min read
1495 words
At Mac Support, Prashanna Shrestha and his team have shown that when it comes to technical work, women are as good as men

At the Mac Support Pvt Ltd premises in Kantipath, iPhones are being disassembled, iMacs are being taken apart for servicing, wires are being soldered onto motherboards, and Macbook trackpads are being calibrated. But it’s not the meticulous work being done at Mac Support that strikes many customers who make their way to the establishment—they are mostly surprised by the personnel working here. Because at Mac Support, almost everyone from the receptionist to the software support personnel and the hardware technicians to the accountant is a woman.

The staff here find amusement in seeing the reaction of first-time visitors who want to get their darling Apple products repaired. “A look of horror comes over some people’s faces when I tell them that almost all the work here is done by women,” says Sajina Lama, 20, a BBS student at Premier College by morning, and a technician at Mac Support by day. “When we get talking to first-time customers to Mac Support, we are met with comments like, “Can I talk to a male technician?” or “Isn’t there anyone else who can take care of it?” or “Do you mind if I watch while you repair it?”. First-time customers feel very insecure about letting us work on their delicate—and expensive—pieces of technology,” she says. Many of these new customers apparently have very little confidence in the female staff here.

The girls, however, believe in their skills, which they usually acquire after a four-month technical course provided to them for free by Mac Support. Sajina Lama too completed this course, from which, she says, she learned a lot. Besides that, she also spent hours on YouTube watching videos on how to repair different types of electronic devices and practised on old Apple gadgets at Mac Support. Today, she can solve problems related to overheating, repair adapters, fix a crashed hard-disk, clean connectors and bring back to life a computer into which liquid has seeped. And so can all the other girls at Mac Support.

But the personnel do often wonder why some people react in the way they do when they walk into Mac Support—for the company is more than two decades old and has built a reputation among Apple product owners for delivering quality service, as evidenced by its loyal customer base. Perhaps it’s all because Nepalis aren’t accustomed to seeing women technicians—because until the very recent past, women didn’t opt for careers in the IT sector.

“A look of horror comes over some people’s faces when I tell them that almost all the work here is done by women“

“Boys have been growing up around male role models—fathers, brothers, uncles—who went into the engineering and IT fields,” says Sanjiv Udash, IT Course Leader at Islington College. “They could also draw inspiration from world-famous IT savants like Bill Gates—a man. Girls, at least in Nepal, do not have as many women role models in the tech sector they can look up to. This could be a reason why many girls, especially of earlier generations, could have assumed that IT was a subject beyond their ken.

But even today, such notions about what women should opt for haven’t changed all that much. Statistics from Islington College show that only ten out of 115 IT graduates in 2012 were female. In 2016, 34 out of 266 IT graduates were female. While the number of girls studying IT seems to have improved, the ratio between men and women who study IT doesn’t look too good. Only eight to twelve per cent of a graduating batch are girls. For every girl that has studied IT at Islington, there have been at least 11 boys who were studying IT. Similarly, Rakesh Kumar Chaudhari, teacher of Computer Science in the A Level Department at GEMS School, says that in their class of 30 students, only three or four are usually girls. This problem with perceptions regarding what women should opt for often starts with parents.

The parents of today were brought up in a society, and a larger world, with these very notions. Naturally, these parents taught their children what they knew and influenced their daughters to take up subjects that did not require technical expertise, say many IT teachers. Chaudhari believes that parents tend to prod, and sometimes even force, their daughters to pursue only subjects like medicine and interior designing: subjects that have been deemed suitable for girls. It doesn’t help matters that this conundrum about women and math and technology hasn’t been solved even in places like the Silicon Valley. There have been many media reports and studies that show that women are not getting into tech—even in the West.

Furthermore, gender roles are defined at a very young age and even by things as seemingly inconsequential as toys. According to a 2012 study by sociologists Auster & Mansbach from Franklin and Marshall College, titled The Gender Marketing of Toys: An Analysis of Color and Type of Toy on the Disney Store Website, most of the toys that were labelled boys-only included action figures, building toys, weapons and small vehicles while the toys that were labelled girls-only included dolls, cosmetics, jewellery, or domestic-oriented typified toys. Such exposure, they concluded, impacts how girls and boys regard what subjects to study later on.

Furthermore, according to Udash, earlier, girls did not opt for IT, or any subject that required the learning of technical skills for that matter, because they knew that they would eventually get married, after which any technical skill that they might have picked up would be left unused. He also thinks that girls today choose careers with a nine-to-five work schedules, such as banking or business. “This allows the girls to attend to their families and take care of things at home, a level of flexibility that working in IT does not allow,” he says.

“Moreover, whenever people think of any job that requires technical expertise, they presuppose that most of these could only be done by men. Even if we were to go only five years into the past, we would see very few women taking up jobs that required technical skills,” says Udash. It is not very often that Nepalis see a watchmaker, a plumber, or a mechanic who is a woman. Perhaps the rarity of the situation has hardwired into many people’s brains the notion that women cannot do well in a field that requires technical expertise.

However, many students have debunked these myths. According to Udash, although the number of girls at Islington may be less, they usually perform as well as, if not better, than their male counterparts. In fact, this year at Islington College, all the toppers in the three subdivisions of IT—computing, networking and multimedia—were women. This shows that if given the right platform and opportunities, girls can become top-notch IT professionals.

The women at Mac Support have been provided with such opportunities. Prashanna Shrestha, CEO of Mac Support, hopes that whenever customers come to his shop, they leave feeling that women can perform technical work exceedingly well. Ever since the venture was established by Shrestha and Sudharsan Khadka in 1994, it has been setting an example to help girls. Shrestha is of the opinion that mere prejudice shouldn’t hold women back from availing of job opportunities. "You are bigger than nobody, and nobody is bigger than you,” he tells the girls at Mac Support. He credits his daughter for his drive to empower women. “I see a lot of potential in my daughter, and she inspires me to see potential in other women too,” says Shrestha.

With Mac Support, Shrestha is putting his money where his mouth is. He’s not simply doing these girls a favour by choosing them over men; he has a business to run. But he believes that the girls that he has employed are capable of running the show. And he hopes that, customer by customer, Mac Support will change minds about women’s aptitude for technical work.